Driven: 2014 BMW M5 Competition Pack
By Bradley Iger
May 15, 2014
BMW has taken some flack over the past few years for what some diehard fans consider the dilution of its M performance brand, first by gradually loaning out the M badge to appearance packages and more pedestrian upgrades to lesser vehicles, and then by allowing forced induction into the equation after staunchly sticking to the use of naturally aspirated engines in M cars for decades. At its core though, M performance has long centered around two vehicles in particular: the M3 coupe and the M5 sedan. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the E39-generation M5 achieved near-mythical status as the ideal every day driver's car, and many still regard it as a high watermark for BMW sedans. Whether or not the E39 M5 is worthy of such praise (we think it is), it set fairly lofty expectations for its successors. Two generations later we find ourselves with the F10 M5, here outfitted with the Competition Pack, ready to spend a week trying to determine whether or not this particular spec of the M5 still champions the same principles that placed its predecessors in such high regard.
What's the idea behind the M5 Competition Pack?
The Competition Pack makes a number of subtle changes to the M5 in order to heighten its abilities on a road course while retaining all the comfort and convenience features found in the standard M5. Power sees a small bump from 560 to 575 horsepower, though torque figures remain the same at 500 lb-ft. A sports exhaust system, which brings black chrome tips with it - seemingly the only discernable visual tip-off of this Competition Pack equipped car - is fitted to help resolve some gripes about the standard M5's lack of aural character, while stiffer dampers, beefier sway bars, and a 10 millimeter reduction in ride height all serve to sharpen the M5's handling prowess. Various electronically-controlled performance features, including the Active M Differential and Dynamic Stability Control, have been updated to take advantage of the hardware revisions as well.
How does it drive on the street?
We have to wonder what the metric was that caused the engineers at M to decide that the Competition Pack's suspension setup was too harsh for the standard M5, relegating it to a smaller subset of M5 owners who will opt for the upgrade and likely ponder the same. The adaptive suspension offers three flavors: Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. In Comfort mode, the suspension remains eminently compliant and comfortable over all but the worst sections of mangled pavement. In this setting, we wouldn't hesitate to jump in this Bavarian highway missile for a cross-country road trip. Sport firms things up a bit, but not to the point of around-town harshness, and was setting we left the car in most often. Sport Plus takes things a step further, and while it is significantly firmer than Comfort and Sport, it's still pretty compliant in comparison to the stiffness we've experienced in other sport-focused coupes and sedans in recent memory. If this were the only setting available, we might be willing to call it a bit stiff, but as the stiffest setting among two lesser modes, along with its inclusion in an option package touting track tuning, we'd be willing to call it a bit on the soft side. Regardless, ride quality is excellent, and despite the M5's formidable mass, body roll and brake dive are kept at bay during all but the most demanding driver inputs.
Our test car was fitted the optional carbon ceramic brakes, and given the opportunity to test both panic braking as well as their willingness to stand up to the abuses of lengthy spirited sessions down Mulholland Highway, we can confidently report that these brakes perform superbly. We did note that initial top-of-the-pedal bite could be a little unforgiving around town at times, though.
While we were pleased by the user-selectable steering weight, we did notice an odd anomaly in Sport Plus mode that could best be described as a sensation of "slipping" weight resistance in the wheel, even at fairly low speeds, which caused us to keep the steering weight in Sport mode the majority of the time. Despite this small foible, we found the M5's steering to be admirably precise considering the amount of car it is tasked with directing.
BMW says the M5's 4.4 liter biturbocharged V8 has gained 15 horsepower with the Competition Pack. Truth be told, we couldn't tell the difference, but it's of little consequence since the standard M5 pulls like an absolute freight train. In a straight line, few cars outside of bonafide supercar territory stand a chance. BMW quotes the M5 Competition Pack's 0-60 time as 4.1 seconds, but we have no doubt that the real figure is well under four seconds. The M5's seven speed dual clutch transmission is happy to fire off near-instantaneous shifts whenever called upon, and gearing is such that this big sedan will simply pin you to your seat when you bury the throttle at any speed under 60 mph. Turbo lag is fairly minimal, but you will feel the turbos spool up if you're loping along and decide to stab the throttle.
That V8 also makes a curious noise. While we initially chalked it up to the notorious decision by BMW to pipe in simulated engine sounds through the stereo, the Competition Pack's sport exhaust system makes it clear that it wasn't just a case of a fake exhaust noise versus real exhaust noise. The sport exhaust essentially sounds much like what we've heard in the standard M5 only louder, both from inside the cabin and outside the car. It's an oddly robotic but thoroughly modern growl that probably won't find an immediate home in the Engine Sound Hall of Fame, but isn't necessarily unpleasant, either.
Would it work well for track days?
If we had to really pinpoint where the BMW faithful may be on to something about the M division's current trajectory, it would likely start at the track. While the M5 is certainly no slouch in the straights by any measure, the sedan's near 4400 pound curb weight simply cannot be overlooked in a track setting. Would the M5 be a lot of fun at a race track? We're sure it would be, but then again, so is a Mazda MX-5. If the question changes to whether the M5 would be a standout performer at the track, the answer is less encouraging. Even with the Competition Pack - which addresses many of the critiques of the standard M5's less than savory at-limit habits - it's still a 4400 pound sedan, and as a result, it simply cannot fully hide that mass when driven hard in demanding driving situations.
So yes, we think it would work fine for track days, and we can say with certainty that the engine, transmission and brakes are more than up to the task. However, we doubt those with track experience in race-prepped vehicles will confuse the M5 with a stripped out race car any time soon.
At the end of the day, you can't have comfort, convenience and uncompromised track manners. BMW knows this, and they're betting that this car - Competition Pack or not - will spend the majority of its life in everyday traffic with the occasional outing to your favorite driving roads. At nearly $120,000 as tested, it's probably a reasonable assumption that most M5s are not being purchased with the expectation of their owners mercilessly beating on them at the track on a regular basis, and they'll appreciate the heated steering wheel and automatic trunk lid more than an extra .01g of lateral grip. While it may be lamentable to some, BMW's gradual drift of the M division toward a more comfort-meets-capability mantra is probably a sensible one from a business standpoint. That may not be music to enthusiasts' ears, because we often like to think of ourselves as advocates of hardcore, unyielding driving dynamics, but at the end of the day, if these feature-rich, über-comfortable super sedans weren't selling, they wouldn't be making them.
2014 BMW M5 Competition Pack
Price: $90,900 (base), $117,075 as tested
Engine: 4.4-liter biturbocharged V8
Output: 575 horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque
0-60 mph: 3.7 seconds (est)
Fuel economy: 14 city / 20 highway / 16 combined
On sale: Now